Please note: This list represents some of the best productivity tools that I have found for freelancers, solopreneurs and small business CEOs. Since its original publication in 2017, several of the featured tools have updated their pricing and features. The changes are reflected in this new version.
So, are you thinking about leaving your comfortable corporate or agency gig to go solo? There’s a lot to consider – will you need to obtain health insurance?, do you have a home office?, do you have money in the bank to supplement your earnings until you build up your business? Being a solopreneur can be a little scary but the rewards can be great too.
In 2016 there were 55 million Americans working independently according to Freelancers Union.
I made the leap about two years ago with no prior experience working “virtually”. In the beginning, I needed to figure out a ton of things that I used to take for granted – things like how I would create a contract or how I would track my mileage and business expenses. I am not alone. In fact, in 2016 there were 55 million Americans working independently according to Freelancers Union. That’s about 35% of the total workforce. With so many people joining “freelance nation” a host of companies have created tools to make their lives easier.
Here are a few of the tools that I have come to rely on to run Pinch Hit Partners, my virtual marketing agency. Most of them are free and all of them are easy to use (which is critical since you no longer have access to an on-call IT help desk). And these solutions aren’t just for solopreneurs. As your business grows, many of these technologies will easily scale up to accommodate more customers and employees.
[Free – $29 mo.] Having a lawyer create your contracts will eat into your profits very quickly. Built for freelancers, Bonsai helps you create your contracts by asking you a series of questions and then generating the final document that your clients can e-sign. But that’s not all. Bonsai will also send branded invoices and payment reminders to help you get paid on time. Create proposals and track your time too. The basic service is free but processing fees will apply if you want to accept payments via PayPal, credit cards or bank transfers. Most users will choose the $16 mo. version that supports multiple projects.
[Starting at $89 mo.] It’s time to put on your sales and marketing hat. Use Hatchbuck to add forms to your website and send emails to clients and prospects. Hatchbuck will automatically record their activities into an easy to use sales CRM. Marketing automation features allow you to set up drip marketing campaigns. Sure Hatchbuck doesn’t include some of the fancy features of big name marketing automation tools like Hubspot but it also only costs a fraction of what those companies charge. One of my clients recently consolidated three technologies (member management, email and CRM) into one by using Hatchbuck. They saved a few bucks but, more importantly, they’re now saving a ton of time by working in one system.
[Free] Turn every email you send into a small ad for your business by creating a custom signature from Wisestamp. Go beyond a sterile text-only signature and add your logo or one of the many “widgets” offered. My signature automatically includes a link to my newest blog post.
G-Suite/Google for Business
[Starting at $5 per month] Nobody will take you seriously if you use a free Yahoo address or an old AOL email. You want to look professional right? Use Google to set up an email using your business name. You’ll also get a ton of free cloud storage and free G-suite for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Sorry Microsoft Office.
[Free] Like it’s name suggests, Assistant.to is like having an assistant to help you set up meetings. This tool integrates with Gmail and saves you and your client from going back and forth through trying to settle on a date and time. Just offer your attendee up to three meeting times in a single email. They choose one and Assistant.to adds it to their calendar and yours. Bonus: it prevents double booking too.
[Free – $8 mo.] Tracking your mileage is a pain in the neck. Everlance is an app that automatically records all of your trips. All you have to do is “swipe” to mark each as business, personal or charity. Everlance Premium also helps you record your business revenue and expenses. I love the ability to take photos of my receipts and my accountant appreciates receiving detailed CSV files for completing my taxes.
[Free – $199 mo.] Small companies probably don’t have the luxury of employing project managers but, with Bitrix24, you can easily manage and collaborate on projects with employees, vendors and clients. I primarily use Bitrix24 for project management and client communications but there are other cool features like a built in intranet, CRM and even some basic marketing automation functionality. There’s even a mobile app for staying on task while on the go.
I’m always looking for ways to work smarter. If you have other tools that make working solo more efficient, I hope you’ll share.
About the author
Mark Cipolletti is the president of Pinch Hit Partners, a Richmond, VA-based marketing agency. Pinch Hit Partners provides small and mid-size companies with fractional CMOs and outsourced marketing teams. And unlike so-called full service creative agencies, our low/no overhead model is efficient and affordable while still providing access to the highest quality talent and technologies needed to grow your business. Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
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